Colored Pencil Strokes: Try These Mark Making Techniques

Drawings come to life via colored pencil strokes, as they deposit pigment on the paper. 

This process, fondly referred to by artists as mark making, is as varied as it is beautiful. Marks can range from a tiny dot to a long flowing line, meticulously crafted or freely scribbled, each carrying the unique imprint of the artist's vision.

The beauty of colored pencil strokes is shaped by a multitude of factors...

  • the pressure applied to the pencil,
  • the sharpness of its tip,
  • the type of paper used, 
  • whether the pencil has a soft or hard core,

...they all contribute to the end result. 

The magic, however, lies in awareness and intent – once we understand the impact of each stroke, we can make considered choices to represent the texture of the objects we are drawing.

Hatching and cross hatching

An example of simple hatching stokes in one color

These are techniques commonly used in drawing and can be effectively applied with colored pencils to add depth, texture, and dimension to your artwork. It involves creating a series of lines or strokes in the same or different directions to build up color and shading.

Here are some tips to help you with hatching and cross hatching using colored pencils. 

Colour pencil stroke direction

You can vary the direction of your pencil strokes to create interest and achieve different effects. Experiment with horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or even curved lines to see what works best for your artwork. Ann Kullberg explained her vertical hatching technique in her book Texture in Colored Pencil, a method she used a lot in her early days. 

When cross hatching, your second intersecting layer can be positioned at right angles to the original lines or lay at a less acute angle. 

Stroke density

Adjust the density of your cross-hatching by either spacing the strokes closer together or leaving more space between them. Dense cross-hatching will create a darker and more intense area, while sparse cross-hatching will result in lighter shading.

samples of cross-hatching using a single colored pencil


You can control the pressure you apply to the colored pencil while hatching. Light pressure will produce lighter and more delicate strokes, while heavier pressure will create darker and bolder lines. Gradually build up the layers to achieve the desired effect.

Color mixing

Cross hatching with different colors can add depth and subtly to your drawings. The example below, on watercolor paper, uses three colors from the Lyra range of pencils. First Olive Green and True Blue are laid at right angles to each other and then Light Grey is used over the top to help blend them without drastically altering the color.

The pressure was increased when adding the blue colored pencil strokes in the center.

three colours cross hatched over each otherAdding more colored layers of cross hatching

Pencil sharpness

A sharp tip to the pencil will give you more precision and control over your lines, which is particularly important when you're cross hatching. Regularly sharpening your pencils will make your strokes more defined and clean.

Cross hatching takes practice

Like any skill, you will improve with practice. Start with simple shapes like cubes or spheres, to ge the feel for the technique. As you become more comfortable, move on to more complex subjects. 

Every artist has their own unique style of cross-hatching. Don't be afraid to experiment with different stroke directions, pressures, and pencil colors until you find a style that you like.

Remember, the goal of this form of mark making is to create depth, texture and shading. It's a versatile and effective technique that can enhance the realism and depth of your colored pencil drawings.

Colored pencil strokes - stippling

Stippling is a drawing technique that involves creating a random pattern of small dots or specks. This technique is incredibly effective in colored pencil artwork, allowing you to build up color, tone and texture gradually. 

It is reminiscent of the pointillism technique of painting popular in the late 19th century.

I used Lyra pencils - Night Green and Wine Red - for the sample below.

sample of stippling in colored pencilBeginning the scumbling process

Dot density

The density of your dots determines the tone and texture of the area you're working on. By placing the dots closer together, you can create darker, denser areas. Conversely, spacing them further apart can suggest lighter areas. This manipulation of dot density can help you create a three-dimensional effective in your artwork. 

Dot size

Experiment with varying the size of your dots. Larger dots can fill space quickly, while smaller dots can add delicate details and subtle tonal shifts. Mixing dot sizes can also add a sense of depth and complexity to your artwork.

Sharpen your pencils for the lighter areas, and then as they blunt move into the darker areas and you will get larger dots without any extra effort.

Color mixing

Stippling allows for beautiful and subtle color mixing. By overlapping dots of different colors, you can create a new color or a visual blend that enhances the richness and complexity of your artwork.

Just as with any other colored pencil strokes, layering is essential in stippling. Adding more layers helps create depth and intensity.

I added yellow and purple layers to the areas within the sample below.

additional layers of stippled colorAdding additional colors to the stippled area


Beautiful as the end result can be, stippling is a time consuming technique, especially when working on larger pieces. It requires patience, but the end result is a unique texture and level of detail that's hard to achieve with other methods. 

It is ideal for subjects with distinct textures such as rocks, sand or distant foliage. 

Stippling can make your wrist ache if you do it for long periods, so keep that in mind. 

Fur texture

Now try swapping out your tried-and-true dots for short ticks or lines. By doing so, you can create an untidy yet realistic texture that perfectly mimics the look of fur or grass.

The secret to mastering this technique? Embrace randomness! It may sound simple, but being randomly precise is more challenging than it appears. Your strokes should start and stop at varying points, shunning the predictability of a straight line. Additionally, ensure that your strokes veer off in slightly different angles.

Now, the tool of the trade: a sharp pencil point. Take a look at the sample below. You'll notice that the bottom part, where the pencil tip had started to dull, features strokes that are less defined and softer. A fine point, on the other hand, will produce clean, well-defined strokes, bringing your fur or grass to life!

And here's my personal tip: leave some paper bare between the strokes for this initial layer. This creates a captivating depth and dimension to your artwork, adding another layer of realism.

creating fur layer 1The first layer of random separated strokes

Now to make this scribble look realistic you need to add more layers. 

The key is to keep your strokes random and vary the pressure you put on your pencil. Start with light strokes, then gradually increase your pressure. Add layers using a variety of colors. 

Remember to keep your strokes random. This can create a natural, organic look that is  pleasing to the eye. Don't worry about making each stroke perfect. The beauty of these strokes lie in their imperfections.

To add shadows use a darker color in that area and make your marks closer together. To add highlights you can use a white or light grey pencil to soften the area.

This technique, while subtle, is mighty. It doesn't just brighten areas; it helps to cover the bare spots of the paper with pigment, lending a polished, professional finish to your artwork.

adding darker tips to the hairsAdding more layers with different colours


Scumbling is a drawing technique that involves applying a layer of small, circular, continuous color pencil strokes to your artwork. This technique can create remarkable texture and depth in your piece, adding a unique finish that can set your work apart.

Start with light pressure

Start by applying light pressure to your pencil and create small, continuous, circular strokes. These should overlap and intertwine to create a textured look. 

scumbling step 1The first layers of scumbling


By varying the pressure, size, and direction of your circular strokes, you can create a variety of textures in your artwork. This is especially useful when drawing natural elements like foliage, grass, or fur.

Scumbling is all about layers, building intensity and creating smooth transitions between shades. 

Mixing colors

scumbling step 2Building intensity with additional layers

Don't be afraid to mix colors while scumbling! You can create beautiful and unique color combinations by layering different colored pencil strokes on top of each other. This approach can add depth, vibrancy, and richness to your art.


Like any other technique, scumbling requires practice. Start by practicing on scrap paper before moving on to your final piece. Experiment with different colors, pressures, and stroke sizes to see what effects you can create.

Due to the amount of layers, scumbling can be a time-consuming process (where have you heard that before?) but the end result is worth the time and effort. 

You can go over the scumbled area with a white pencil to "mush" it all together (known a burnishing) and create a smooth surface that retains the texture.Use a firm pressure to do this. Talking of pressure...

burnished with a white pencilAfter burnishing with a white pencil

Pencil pressure 

Applying different pressures while using colored pencils is a fundamental technique in creating diverse effects and textures in your artwork. Pressure control can heavily influence the vibrancy, depth, and overall mood of your piece.

Light pressure

Light pressure is ideal for your initial layers or creating a light sketch outline that won't be noticeable in your final piece. It is a must when you're building up layers of colors and when you're working on delicate or detailed areas.

But using light pressure throughout a drawing can result in a wishy-washy end result. As you move through the process you need to increase the pressure. 

Medium pressure

This is the standard pressure most artists use for the majority of their work. It gives a balance between color vibrancy and the ability to add subsequent layers. Medium pressure is great for creating mid-tones and allows for a decent amount of detail.

Firm pressure

Applying firm pressure allows you to deposit the maximum amount of pigment onto the paper. This results in bold, vibrant colors and is perfect for creating dark shadows or highly saturated areas. However, be cautious as firm pressure can quickly fill the tooth of the paper, limiting subsequent layering.

Heavy pressure

Burnishing is a technique where you apply very heavy pressure to blend the layers of color together and create a polished, glossy effect. It can be done with a colored pencil, a white pencil or a colorless blender. But remember, once you burnish an area, adding more layers becomes challenging.

It is also possible to damage the paper surface if you press too hard. See that light speck in the darkest area of the sample below? I managed to pull up a tiny piece of the watercolor paper there.

the different pencil pressuresVarying the pencil pressure with a single color

Like any technique, mastering pressure control takes practice. Try experimenting on a scrap piece of paper, using the same color and varying the pressure to see the different effects you can create.

Remember to relax!

Holding your pencil too tightly can lead to hand strain over time. Try to relax your grip and let the pencil glide over the paper. This will make the process more enjoyable and can also help you achieve a wider range of pressures.

Understanding and controlling pressure can improve your colored pencil art. So play around, experiment, and discover the full potential of your colored pencil strokes!

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